Information Brief 99-1

Is the Graduating Class of 2000 Prepared for Jobs of the New Millennium?

The end of the millennium is rapidly approaching. High school students who will graduate in 2000 were sophomores in 1997–98. What are these students' characteristics? What does the future hold for them? How well-prepared are they for careers in a technologically complex society?

Information provided through ACT's PLAN program holds some of the answers. PLAN is a standardized test of educational development measuring achievement in English, mathematics, reading, and science reasoning. PLAN also collects information about student needs for help, educational plans, and career interests. More than a half million sophomores participate in PLAN each year. For the most part, PLAN-tested sophomores are similar to sophomores nationwide, except that the PLAN-tested population includes fewer African Americans and Mexican Americans/Hispanics than the U.S. population.

Which Careers Interest the Class of 2000?

The graduating Class of 2000 plans to pursue a variety of careers. As shown in Figure 1, the most popular career areas are science-related fields, social services, and the arts.

Figure 1

Figure 1. Career Preferences of PLAN-tested Sophomores

Because computers and technology are becoming an important part of most people's lives, student interests in careers related to computers and technology are worth studying. Twenty-nine percent of PLAN-tested students are interested in science-related careers. Only 14%, however, plan careers in engineering/applied technology/computers or in natural sciences and mathematics, suggesting that an even smaller percentage plan to work directly with computers and technology. These percentages are similar to those for the graduating class of 1998: 16% of ACT-tested students planned careers in computer/information sciences, engineering, or other science related fields, but only 3% in computer technology.

In the past, females have shown less interest in careers in mathematics and science than males. For the class of 2000, almost as many females (28%) as males (31%) are interested in careers in science or mathematics. However, more than five times as many males as females (16% vs. 3%) are interested in careers in engineering/applied technology/computers.

Will the Class of 2000 be Prepared for the Jobs of the Future?

A postsecondary degree (2-year or 4-year) is becoming a prerequisite for most jobs. Of PLAN-tested sophomores, 74% plan to attend a 2-year or 4-year college or university. Only three-quarters of these college-bound students, however, say they plan to take the college preparatory course work (four or more years of English, three or more years each of mathematics, social studies, and natural sciences). Moreover, only 68% of college-bound sophomores have taken (or are taking) the courses they need in order to complete the college preparatory curriculum by the time they finish high school.

This same trend is evident in science and mathematics. Most sophomores plan to take upper-level mathematics and science courses, such as trigonometry, calculus, chemistry, and physics, by the time they finish high school. Almost one-third plan to take computer mathematics and programming courses. However, only 72% of sophomores have taken or are currently taking Geometry or Algebra 2, course work they need in order to complete upper-level mathematics courses by the end of high school.

Many sophomores report the need for assistance in mathematics and science. As shown in Figure 2, 56% say they need help using computers and 62% need help developing mathematics skills. Other areas of need include writing (49%) and public speaking skills (70%).Females needing help in either mathematics (72%) or computer skills (67%) outnumber males by more than 10% (61% and 53%, respectively).

Figure 2

Figure 2. Students' Perceived Needs for Help

Is the Class of 2000 Achieving at High Levels?

Students' PLAN scores are an indicator of educational achievement and of later success in high school and college. Average PLAN scores for the graduating class of 2000 range from 17.2 to 18.4 across the four subject area tests. (The PLAN score scale is 1–32.)

Nearly 75% of PLAN-tested sophomores from the Class of 2000 scored at or above 16 on the Mathematics test, indicating that most are able to solve arithmetic, percent, average, simple algebra, and simple geometry problems. However, only 36% scored at or above 20, meaning that only one-third of them can do higher-level mathematics involving algebra, geometry, or trigonometry.

For Science Reasoning, 83% scored at or above 16, indicating that almost all can understand basic scientific terms and direct relationships between two variables. But only one third scored at or above 20 and can understand and analyze more complex scientific problems and procedures.

More than two thirds of the students scored at least 16 on the English test, indicating they have a basic understanding of phrases, sentences, and simple grammatical rules and stylistic features. Approximately one-third scored at or above 20, showing more sophisticated skills in grammar, punctuation, and style.

The 59% of students who scored at least 16 on the Reading test could understand reading passages at a basic level, draw simple conclusions, and locate details. But only about one quarter of students scored at or above 20, and can draw conclusions, identify relationships, and make simple generalizations from more challenging reading passages.

Summary

Many students in the Class of 2000 will be prepared for success in college and careers.While some students plan to enter computer-related and applied technology fields, it is not clear that the number will be sufficient to meet the increasing need for people with skills in these fields. Projections by the U.S. Department of Labor indicate that jobs in computer-related fields are expected to double by 2006. Moreover, substantial numbers of students are not preparing themselves for college: while 74% of the students in the Class of 2000 plan to attend 2-year or 4-year colleges and universities, only 68% of these college-bound sophomores are currently taking course work needed to prepare them to do college-level work after high school.

Many students are aware they need strong academic preparation. These students can, with the help and encouragement of their parents, counselors, and teachers, increase their chances for success in high school, college and careers. By taking college preparatory course work, particularly in mathematics and science, students will be better prepared for college-level course work and for the technological demands of the future.